President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, signed on Thursday, includes the largest relief package for families in recent U.S. history. After an agonizing year of school and child-care closures, the aid offers many parents and children the help they have been waiting for.
Single parents making less than $75,000 and couples making less than $150,000 will receive a monthly tax credit of $300 per month for every child under 6 and $250 for every child 6 and over — with some level of support extending to families who make up to $400,000. Experts say the bill could slash child poverty by almost 50 percent.
Unlike previous welfare programs, parents will receive the child tax credit regardless of their employment status. Especially after a year in which millions of American parents have lost their jobs, or have had to leave the workforce to care for kids who are suddenly at home, the sweeping nature of the tax credit is “revolutionary,” said Katherine Goldstein, journalist and creator of “The Double Shift,” a podcast about women and work. Working parents, and especially working mothers, can use this money to get their careers back on track.
“It’s basically the first time that the federal government is saying to parents, ‘You’re not totally on your own,’” Goldstein said. “That is a huge shift in the American mentality.”
The child tax credit is an acknowledgment of everything working mothers have had to deal with in the pandemic, Goldstein added. By including it in the stimulus bill, she said, the federal government is sending a clear message: “This is not an acceptable thing to ask people to do without support.”
More than 2.5 million women have dropped out of the workforce in the past year, with female workforce participation dipping to 57 percent, the lowest it’s been in more than three decades. The child tax credit could help some of those women get back to work.
Adriana Dunaev, 40, owns a small business selling orthopedic children’s shoes. When schools and child-care centers shuttered, she started working off hours, sending emails and filling orders from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m., before her daughters, 5 and 7, woke up, and again from 8 p.m. to midnight, after they went to sleep. It wasn’t sustainable, she said, and she burned out quickly. After a few months, she dramatically downsized her business.
“My customers are starting to forget about me. I notice that,” said Dunaev, who lives in Rockville, Md. She started her business six years ago, after immigrating from Mexico. While it never made a ton of money — her family lives off her husband’s salary — the business has been enormously fulfilling, she said: her own special “thing” that contributes to her sense of self.
Once she and her husband realized that their daughters would be home for the foreseeable future, the solution was clear, Dunaev said. She would scale back.
Her daughters’ school opens for in-person instruction next week, but it will still be a while before Dunaev is ready to send them back. In the meantime, $600 per month from the stimulus bill will help cover child care for two days a week, she said. Once she has that support, Dunaev said, she plans to return to her business. All she needs is a few days each week to send emails and do social media promotion, she said. That will be enough to keep the business afloat.
“It’s not enough to pay for full day care for a family, but it will help me get back to work,” she said.
The pandemic has forced many women to abandon long-term plans to solve short-term crises, Goldstein said. Many women in dual-income partnerships looked at their careers and asked themselves, “Is this financially worth it?” With schools closed, some were making less than they would have needed to spend on alternate child care. In the long-term, Goldstein said, it makes more financial sense for both partners to stay in the workforce, contributing to their retirement and other benefits. But in the pandemic, the short-term emergency took priority, Goldstein said.
The child tax credit allows them to start thinking about the long-term goals again.
The cost of child care has skyrocketed during the pandemic as parents who could afford to resorted to individualized workarounds. Parents shelled out extra money for tutors, “pods” and au pairs, said Casey Stockstill, a professor of sociology at the University of Denver who specializes in race, gender and early-childhood education. The stimulus bill will help offset some of those costs.
Parents will benefit from the freedom to choose how they spend their payment, Stockstill added. While other child-care benefits come in the form of vouchers, to be used at licensed child-care centers, this tax credit allows parents to opt for different kinds of care. This is beneficial for parents who work unconventional hours, she said.
Unlike most tax credits, where you receive the payment once a year, families will get a smaller sum at regular intervals. This will ensure the money is used over the course of the year. Payments will line up with day-care bills, Stockstill said, which also arrive once a month.
This regularity will be especially helpful for parents who live paycheck to paycheck, Goldstein said.
“Your ability to make decisions can’t be based on a couple thousand dollars in April each year,” she said. “You need the money in a regular way they can count on.”
Libby Wawzenek, 38, a former teacher in Silver Spring, Md., has been on a tight budget through the pandemic. She stopped working in 2019 to take care of her now-2-year-old son. When the pandemic hit, she said, she and her husband decided it didn’t make sense for her to go back.
For the last year — as her husband’s salary was reduced, then restored — they’ve had to work out their budget “down to the dollar,” with a very small amount of money reserved for non-fixed expenses.
The stimulus money will give her some breathing room, she said. She won’t stress out every time her son outgrows a pair of pants.
The child tax credit is a remarkable departure from previous policies, Goldstein said, which treated parenting as a personal responsibility, rather than a communal one. She suspects the shift is due to the pervasiveness of the pandemic child-care crisis.
Sadly, she said, that’s what it took to move the needle. “It’s no longer seen as an issue for poor communities in urban centers of color,” she said.
The stimulus provides for one year of the child tax credit, but experts say the policy will likely be wildly popular — which could push legislators to make it permanent.
Once checks start arriving in July, Goldstein said, parents everywhere will realize “what a big deal this is.” Right now, she added, many mothers are understandably skeptical. They’ve been ignored by the government for so long, Goldstein said, that it’s hard to believe legislators are finally listening.
“People have had such an incredibly traumatic year that it’s sometimes hard to even think about things getting better,” said Goldstein, who unexpectedly had to shell out an additional $11,000 dollars last year to pay for child care when schools closed.
The sheer magnitude of the bill didn’t hit her until she was explaining it to her husband, she said.
“We will be getting $900 a month for our three kids,” she told him. “That’s a total game changer.”